A People's Read-a-long! I'm still thoroughly enjoying this read-a-long. It's incredibly easy to keep track of reading one chapter a week. I even managed to keep up while being away at ALA Midwinter most of this week (I'm coming home tonight...hooray for plane reading time!)
My thoughts: Chapter 2, entitled "Drawing the Color Line," focuses on slavery and its origins in the United States. I found this topic illuminating, depressing and simultaneously fascinating and difficult to read. Having read and enjoyed Property, Valerie Martin's Orange Prize-winning novel of slavery earlier this month (my review), I found myself connecting the dots between Zinn's history and the story of Manon in 1828 Louisiana.
What I found most interesting in this chapter was the role of racism. When I think of slavery, I think of racism, but Zinn outlined this distinction: "In the early years of slavery, especially, before racism as a way of thinking was firmly ingrained, while while indentured servants were often treated as badly as black slaves, there was a possibility of cooperation." It makes sense of course, when you think of who the early settlers were: "many of them were skilled craftsmen, or even men of leisure back in England, who were so little inclined to work the land that John Smith, in those early years, had to declare a kind of martial law, organize them into work gangs, and force them into the fields for survival." As I pondered this obvious idea I hadn't thought of before, I was reminded of Ann Weisbarger's phenomenal debut novel The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, where a black couple become homesteaders in South Dakota's Badlands (my review). Many of their neighbors bailed when times got tough, or tougher, there were other options. Times were indeed tough for the early settlers: "The Virginians of 1619 were desperate for labor, to grow enough food to stay alive. Among them were survivors from the winter of 1609–1610, the “starving time,” when, crazed for want of food, they roamed the woods for nuts and berries, dug up graves to eat the corpses, and died in batches until five hundred colonists were reduced to sixty." Slavery was their answer.
I find it fascinating that this notion of survival prompted slavery. It's a sign of the complicated nature of human relationships that slavery prompted racism. I imagine slaveowners let themselves begin to believe slaves were different so they could find a way to try to live with their actions. Justifying human behavior is a fascinating idea, and this chapter was filled with troubling justifications that begin to seem almost understandable in the times but still reprehensible to a thinking person:
"There may have been a kind of frustrated rage at their own ineptitude, at the Indian superiority at taking care of themselves, that made the Virginians especially ready to become the masters of slaves."It's an uncomfortable chapter to identify with the positions of both slaves and owners, but it's an important one.
Favorite passage: "Slaves recently from Africa, still holding on to the heritage of their communal society, would run away in groups and try to establish villages of runaways out in the wilderness, on the frontier. Slaves born in America, on the other hand, were more likely to run off alone, and, with the skills they had learned on the plantation, try to pass as free men."
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